by Anna Lee Huber
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #2
Publication Date: March 9, 2013
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
No sophomore slump here. An excellent tale of murder and the evils that men do, that takes place in early 19th century Scotland.
After the events that transpired in The Anatomist’s Wife, Lady Kiera Darby is pulling herself together. She’s no longer trying to disappear amongst the furniture. She’s stronger, more willing to stand up for herself and others.
Sebastian Gage is unchanged, although in this book we see more of his true feelings come out – eventually. He’s starting to open up, but more like a box whose lid hinges have rusted shut and must be worked open, bit by bit, as opposed to a jammed lid that springs open and starts gushing the box’s contents.
That was a horrible metaphor. I hated creative writing in school, and now it’s clear why. It’s also clear to me that we’re in for the long haul if we want to see Kiera and Gage together; this is not going to be some combustible romance, but a love that is going to build up over time, tears, and insults, as well as mutual respect and trust that is earned. With a few kisses thrown in to keep the pulse rate up.
There’s a mystery and a story in this book – at 370 pages there’s room enough for both. Lady Darby and her family are en route to Edinburg when they are asked to make a stop on the way, to the home of an old friend from Keira and Alana’s childhood (who also happens to be a uni mate of Alana’s husband). Upon arriving they discover the Lord of the manor, William, missing and presumed dead for the last decade, has been found and rescued from an insane asylum his father secretly committed him to. William was, at one time, Keira’s art tutor as well as childhood chum; a war hero she had secretly worshipped. She is invested in doing whatever she can to see him mended.
The book’s mystery, in my opinion, takes a bit of a back seat to the larger story here. Mortal Arts is also a narrative about the horrors of war, the damage it does to the men fighting it, and the further damage that can happen when the people who are supposed to love them misunderstand the effects on those returning home. Battle fatigue, shell-shock, PTS, PTSD – whatever name it’s given by whatever generation suffers it, it’s all the same. We get a front seat view of the damage both the war and the asylum have done to William. Unless you read a lot of horror, or other graphic fiction, I dare say the scene when Kiera sees William again for the first time is one that will leave an impression, if not raise the hair on your arms. Ghastly and horrific. But not really graphic in it’s details – the author allows the reader’s imagination to add the colour and detail (or not) to many of the descriptions.
The mystery surrounds the disappearance of a girl in the village – could William, who’s still suffering ‘episodes’ stemming from the horrors of his incarceration, have been responsible? Kiera refuses to believe it’s possible for William to hurt any female, but evidence comes to light that he may have murdered a young woman while at the asylum – a fellow ‘resident’ of the facility. Kiera and Gage agree to investigate the missing woman and find out what really happened before deciding William’s fate. It’s a good mystery, but not a great one, since I think it’s a rather narrow field of suspects and little doubt as to where the true perpetrator lies. It’s more about establishing for a fact, William’s innocence and finding evidence that can stand up in legal proceedings. Because there’s so much else going on, the mystery itself also loses a bit of urgency, but I didn’t mind, as caught up as I was in the other dramas.
The ending was heart-wrenching; no tears, (thank god, I hate crying over books!) but definitely a bit of melancholy when I closed the book. I found Lady Darby’s reaction to the aftermath felt authentic; I think I would have reacted in much the same manner had I found myself having to suffer similarly.
The last page ends with portents of future investigations and strong use of foreshadowing, which I normally hate, but since I know the third book’s publication date is coming up, I’m not as irritated as I might be. It’s already on my list of books to buy for July and I’m relieved to see there will be at least two books beyond that; colour me hooked on this series.